Mothering the new Mother
Women’s Feelings and Needs After Childbirth
Newmarket Press, 2000
Reviewed by Sara Walters
Cardiff South Wales Great Britain
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 3, June-July 2004, p. 69.
As LLL Leaders we play a big role in the postpartum experience of many mothers. In Western society, the weeks following childbirth can be a tumultuous experience. Women try to follow the advice of supposed “experts,” and try to make sense of a life-changing event from which they are supposed to bounce back in a matter of weeks. In Mothering the New Mother: Women’s Feelings and Needs after Childbirth, Sally Plaskin creates a resource guide that highlights how essential it is that mothers have ongoing support from others after childbirth. In particular, Plaskin emphasizes that the best sources of support come from the real experts: other mothers. Her book is a celebration and a treasure trove of mother-to-mother support groups, information lines, and publications. All were created out of women’s desires to share their experiences and help others. LLL is a prime and influential example.
Plaskin considers all aspects of the weeks postpartum. Her book has chapters on coping at home in the early weeks; choosing a doula; breastfeeding; dealing with postpartum depression; returning to work; staying at home; and adjusting to subsequent children. She does not present a “how-to” guide on or explain how to handle these stages, but rather explores the emotional and practical issues, and tells mothers how to go about finding help. Each chapter has a very comprehensive list of resources, directing the reader to places where she can get more help and information. (The majority of resources listed pertain to the USA and Canada.)
In common with LLL publications, Plaskin includes many mothers’ stories that enable each reader to see that her experiences, fears, and worries are shared by many. In turn, Plaskin shows us that many of these women used their experiences to spearhead the formation of a support group. She also includes a variety of stories from around the world which may spark the envy of many Western mothers as they read about round-the-clock care provided by the new mother’s peers allowing her to focus solely on her baby (and get breastfeeding off to a good start), complete rest, massage, and chicken soup! These stories show us that our need for help is normal and essential, not a sign of weakness and failure. They also allow us to mourn what we have lost in immediate community support, and help us realize that in forming support groups we are reclaiming a tradition while adapting it to the modern world.
Breastfeeding is referred to as the norm throughout the book, and Plaskin emphasizes the importance of establishing a support network as early as possible. She notes that although many women approach breastfeeding with passion and enthusiasm, in reality most have very little practical know-how and support and this can put the relationship in jeopardy.
As is often the case with resource handbooks, some of the information is already out of date, including, sadly, reference to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, which is described as last being updated in 1991—a glaring error as Plaskin updated and revised Mothering the New Mother in 2000. Did she miss the 1997 edition of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING? Web sites are also fairly sparse, but a quick search on the Internet will yield information on most of the groups and publications that Plaskin mentions.
Leaders will find this book very helpful in guiding mothers to other resources as they help them through the challenges of new motherhood. And Leaders will also be inspired by the sense of empowerment that is celebrated by mothers who use their experiences to positive ends by forming grassroots organizations to help others. Having first read this book when I was four months postpartum with my second child, I found it spoke to me on many levels. It not only validated my need for practical support around the house, but why I felt guilty for wanting it. It acknowledged that it is an overwhelming transition for some to go from one to two children. It also emphasized for me why I still squeeze in time in my already crowded day to do my LLL work. This book is a celebration of the kind of work we do as volunteers and mothers.
Sara Walters was accredited in 2001 in Southern California, USA where she led with the Lomita/San Pedro Group. She has recently relocated back to her native Great Britain with husband, Dafydd, and their two US-born children, Rebecca (4) and Jonathan (1), who are now being raised as bilingual Welsh/English speakers in Cardiff, South Wales, Great Britain. Sara is the co-Chair of the LLLI Book Evaluation Committee. Jake Aryeh Marcus is the Contributing Editor for LEAVEN Book Reviews.